British High Commissioner to New Zealand Laura Clarke says Māori are high priority in future trade deal

The British High Commissioner to New Zealand has stressed the importance of involving Māoridom in any future UK-NZ free trade agreement (FTA).

The need for a separate FTA between New Zealand and the United Kingdom emerged in 2016 when the British people voted to leave the European Union.

But negotiations have been delayed by the tumultuous Brexit process, that has so far claimed the scalps of two UK Prime Ministers and sent the country's Parliament into disarray. It was originally meant to happen by March 2019, but a recently granted extension means the UK now has until the end of January to sort itself out.

With the UK being New Zealand's fifth-largest trading partner - two-way trade between the countries is valued at around NZ$6 billion - officials have been meeting since March 2017 to set out future plans. In September, the UK's Trade Secretary Liz Truss promised the UK-NZ FTA would be one of the first struck post-Brexit, while later that month British PM Boris Johnson told Kiwi Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern he would look at the issue of tariff rate quotas on NZ exporters.

On Saturday, British High Commissioner to New Zealand Laura Clarke reiterated the importance of the deal.

"We see [the FTA] as an opportunity to really set the standard in terms of the UK's future independent trade policy and really do something really high-quality, ambitious there," she told Newshub Nation.

Engaging with Māoridom and ensuring their interests are considered during the drafting of an FTA is something Clarke said was important.

"I have got a particularly high place or high priority on building the UK's relationship with Māoridom across New Zealand, across the board. That is about trading links, cultural links, people to people links," Clarke said.

"In any trade agreement, Māori are an important stakeholder, Māori business is really important in New Zealand. It is really about exploring what we can do both now, in terms of two-way trade and investment between the UK and New Zealand… but also then what we might be able to do together in a free trade agreement."

She said that would involve taking into account the Treaty of Waitangi and seeing what could be done to maximise Māori business and its connection to the UK.

Clarke has already proven herself to be willing to engage with issues important to New Zealand's tangata whenua. Last year, she told The Guardian she was going to learn te reo Māori as the increasing use of the language meant it was a "non-negotiable" requirement. 

Earlier this month, she gave a formal expression of regret for the killing of Māori when Captain Cook first came ashore about 250 years ago. She was welcomed onto Te Poho o Rawiri Marae and acknowledged the pain from the killings hasn't diminished over time while also extending sympathy to the descendants of those killed. The acknowledgement is believed to be the first of its kind in New Zealand history.

She told Newshub Nation that it was a crucial step.

"It is very important, I think, when you are wanting to build a forward-looking relationship, which we absolutely are, that you are able to look back and acknowledge the past, and acknowledge the pain of that past which has been handed down from generation to generation."

Clarke also said there would be a Māori delegation going to the United Kingdom later this month to learn about taonga held in British museums. 

It's an unsettled time for British politicians and diplomats, with the country set to go to the polls on December 12. Having an election is pivotal to Johnson's Brexit strategy. With Parliament in deadlock over Brexit, the Prime Minister is hoping to win more seats for the Conservatives and therefore have the ability to push through a Brexit deal of his choosing.

Clarke isn't even trying to predict what will happen. 

"I have long given up trying to predict what is going to happen in British politics."

"But the reason [for] an election, as you know we are going through this period of massive constitutional change in terms of our relationship with the EU and the parliamentary arithmetic has been such that it has been really hard to reach consensus on exactly how you implement Brexit."

Watch the full interview with the High Commissioner above. 

Newshub Nation.

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